McQueen’s “Hunger” is ascetic, sparse, ordered, and horrific – but beautiful too in its imagery.
And the long, uninterrupted dialogue scene of around twenty minutes (in a film which otherwise has little) in which Bobby Sands conveys the decision to the priest to go on hunger strike, is mesmerisingly dramatic, a superbly scripted and delivered joust, that seems all the more striking for its sense of historical people imitating the theatricality of the stage in a life or death situation.
Is this film, in its uncluttered, delicately coloured gaze, lack of dialogue and character development, a travesty of a messy, horrible, lived reality?
Does it subtly order, beautify and make palatable—or neuter—a situation that is a grinding mental and physical burden for many people on all sides in NI, creating a busy, parasitic discourse for cineastes – so they can bolster their moral and intellectual selves even as they feel themselves to be witnessing an important film art event and maybe a future historical source?
Maybe so they can better rehearse then play intellectual guerilla war in a safe social environment with others?
Or, worse, does it con the well-meaning and emotional but unwary that they are seeing something directly revealing, meaningful and important about the people and events of the hunger strikes in the north of Ireland ?
Does this film possess an earned privilege to stand back and win money, prizes and prestige on the back of physical suffering, indescribable uncertainty, and on the back of many that suffer at the hands of those with pristine, focussed, full-colour and all-encompassing choreographed visions, dreams and (perhaps disembodied) certainties about how the world looks – or should look ?
Or are we being taught something valuable about the incommensurate natures of political action and realities and Art?
Are the politically motivated being taught here to look at how they look, to look at how they respond to images and narrative, to become more self-conscious, to educate their emotions, to be more reflexive in the sense of reflecting back on themselves rather than reflexively jerking their moral and ideological and emotional knees in response to images and the film narrative depiction of human emotions and actions?
And joining the stampeding political or cinematic herd?
Does the film merely have the appearance of being exploitative but on further reflection is shown to have serious concerns about the social and material monetisation of serious human concerns ?
If the film doesn’t “take sides”, is that a pretence? Can it only betray somebody or everybody with its cinematic gaze?
If it is not on the side of real people—and is just using them—does it betray Art instead by being – when all is blethered and bugger all done – sensationalist ? Predictably and uselessly voyeuristic ?
Are these articulate questions otiose or hideous or repetitively disingenuous? Or self-serious ? Do they show a shrill, shrewish, screw-like or perverse, paramilitary-like lack of respect for sensitive issues or people?
Or do they form part of a legitimate discussion provoked by a serious, legitimate film that attempts, like a piece of good visual and narrative art, to impose an impartial rule of law on the mind and senses while it vicariously inhabits a cynically god-forsaken, dangerous human shithole ?
Conversely, should we instead in some way be like Bobby Sands as portrayed by Michael Fassbender? Maybe be not neccessarily ideologically or politically active and coloured but still be past philosophical examination, past art gazing, past priestly casuistry and navel-fondling, past poncing off other people’s emotions, past pretending we share anything of consequence with ourselves or anybody else by watching Art or film or drama or reading narrative about subjects such as this ?
Is the film more about McQueen and his desires to look and be seen looking in his impeccable artist’s way of looking than about the suffering of the characters, or the unseen, off-camera rest of the north of Ireland? Does the figure of Sands skewer McQueen’s pretentions to significance? Or does McQueen appropriate Sands’ vitality, vision and zeal – for cinematic effect?
Are the characters just characters – fodder for the ephemeral journalistic or dramaturgical focus of the film – rather than proper stand-ins for authentic historical people ?
Is the gaze of the camera, in its apparent forensic faithfulness to the environment it portrays, not a little like an Orwellian or Endemolian Big Brother – simultaneously gazing at and “caring” for its subjects? Or objects?
Gazing a little lasciviously, even?
Am I being taught to lust after irresolvable conflict and unjust realities for the sake of annoying an establishment or to get brownie points in rebelliousness or realism or for knowledge of the ethological, beastly nature of the human animal?
Or am I being educated about the triggering of lust for human horror and conflict not by looking at what horror lies through the window – that horror that I and many others would like to think or are led to think is a likeness of things that did happen in real life – but through reflection on the nature of the opaque window staring back at me ? About how the nature of the window makes me respond ? And about how I would like to respond to it?
About what I would like the cinematic window – or opaque, flat screen – to do for me? In the confines of the multiplex, arthouse cinema or living room or bed staring at tiny moving image on a tablet?
Am I being educated about Film and – by extension – the vagaries of representation in politics ? Rather than in direct, unmediated visions ? Rather than about hotlines to the repressed or oppressed ?
And not being taught how to teach others what horrors I have seen.
Either in film or in reality.
Or in my head.
Once I have learnt things about film will I get permission to feel that asking questions like this is not a poor substitute for action or for “being there”?
And that asking these kinds of questions is not a distancing effect, an unearned disregard for the “real people” and emotions that a film like “Hunger” stands in for?